U.S. retail imports rise

Import volume at the nation's major retail container ports is expected to increase by about 6.1% in April, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“A busy time is expected over the next few months, so retailers are keeping a close eye on the labor situation at West Coast ports to ensure that cargo continues to move smoothly,” said, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold. (The current contract for West Coast dockworkers expires June 30, but negotiations are not expected to begin until mid-May.) “Companies are already exploring contingency plans in case of a disruption.”

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.26 million twenty-foot equivalent units in February, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available.

One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

Weight and sea

2014 outlook:
  1. March was estimated at 1.31 million TEU, up 15 percent from the same month last year
  2. April is forecast at 1.38 million TEU, up 6.1 percent from last year
  3. May at 1.44 million TEU, up 3.8 percent
  4. June at 1.43 million TEU, up 5.5 percent
  5. July at 1.49 million TEU, up 3.1 percent
  6. August at 1.51 million TEU, up 1.2 percent
The first half of the year is expected to total 8.2 million TEU, up 5.5 percent over last year.

The total for 2013 was 16.2 million TEU, up 2.3 percent from 2012’s 15.8 million TEU.

The import numbers come as NRF is forecasting 4.1 percent sales growth in 2014.

The news release from NRF notes that cargo volume does not correlate directly with sales but is a barometer of retailers’ expectations.  Wait and see.